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Reasons Why Pet Birds Bite

There are three types of bird bites: exploratory biting, territorial biting and fear biting. Find out what these three types of bites mean.

By Susan Chamberlain
Posted: December 4, 2009, 12:00 a.m. PST

Purchase BIRD TALK Digital Back IssuesRemember that your pet bird or parrot is an individual with a strong personality and natural instincts. The reasons for biting are numerous. Some of the more common situations are: Has your pet bird ever suddenly bitten you at the approach of another person? This disturbing behavior is like a short circuit in your pet bird’s protective instincts. It’s called displacement biting, and can even occur among birds themselves.

A parrot, trying to protect its mate, may first nip at the mate to encourage it to fly away to safety, then attempt to drive off an intruder. Encouraging other family members to handle your pet bird and to share responsibility for the pet bird’s care may help correct this behavior. Never permit a pet bird prone to displacement biting to sit on your shoulder.

lovebird biting finger
Watch your bird's body language. A pet bird ready to bite will raise its feathers, spread its tail feathers and then lunge forward for a bite. This behavior can easily be mistaken for an excited pet bird, so when you see it, step back and calm your bird down.

Exploratory Biting
Many young pet birds have a tendency to be "beaky.” They explore with their beaks, sometimes chewing on fingers and other human body parts during these explorations. This can be painful, but it doesn’t mean your pet bird doesn’t like you. It’s just part of being an adolescent bird. Young birds usually outgrow this behavior as they mature and gain confidence.

Sometimes this "beaky” behavior is just the bird’s way of testing objects to be sure that they’re substantial enough to stand on. Discourage this type of biting by making your pet feel as secure as possible. Remain calm when the bird is climbing around on you. A stern "No!” or substituting a toy for your hand may be sufficient to distract a nippy parrot. If the behavior persists, some cage time may be in order.

Territorial Biting
Territorial biting sometimes occurs when you put your hand in your bird’s cage. Birds are genetically programmed to protect their nests from intruders. Parrots can be quite territorial, especially when their hormones are active during breeding season.

Peabody, a half-moon conure becomes frenzied; screeching and dive-bombing anyone daring to touch his yellow food dish! His owner keeps several sets of dishes, and replaces the empty yellow dish with a full one in a split second!

Avoid territorial bites by taking your bird out of its bird cage before cleaning and replenishing food. It is often preferable to allow the bird to climb out on its own, rather than to put your hand inside to bring the bird out. Socialize with your little buddy in neutral territory, away from the cage. Refrain from making eye contact with a territorial bird as this may be perceived as a sign of aggression.

Teach your pet to step onto a proffered perch when it wants to come out of the cage. Raise the far end of the stick slightly, and the bird will seek the higher altitude, safely out of biting range of your hand or arm. Don’t encourage biting by teasing your bird or jabbing fingers through cage bars.

Fear Biting
Fear of unfamiliar situations or people may precipitate biting. Such scenarios may include taking your pet birds to the vet or groomer, having a crowd of people at your home for the holidays, moving to a new home or even bringing in a new piece of furniture.

Does your bird nip you whenever the family dog enters the room? Is something in its line of vision frightening it? The sight of a kite hung up in power lines more than a block away once spooked my Amazon parrots. I didn’t even notice it, but they sure did! Once I lowered the window shade so they could no longer see the flapping kite, they settled down. Get down on your bird’s level and look around. You may be surprised at what you notice!

Some birds have been abused in previous homes and biting was their only defense. In his previous home, my red-lored Amazon parrot, Bogart was lured up a flight of stairs and kicked down the steps once he reached the top. Twenty-two years later, Bogart is still nippy, possibly as a result of this maltreatment. He doesn’t bite if I handle him when I’m alone, but another person in the room sets him off. He’s stick trained, so I just tote him around on a stick when other people are present.

Deal with fear biting by removing the source of the fear when possible, stick training your bird, learning which situations trigger biting episodes and avoiding the beak at those times.

Want to learn more about biting birds?

Stop A Biting Bird
About Parakeet Biting Behavior

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Posted: December 4, 2009, 12:00 a.m. PST

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Reasons Why Pet Birds Bite

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Reader Comments
Posted: 10/28/2013 1:00:25 PM
n, n, TN
Posted: 6/5/2013 12:19:19 PM
My Blue and Gold Macaw is 8 years old. Is that considered adolescent? Also mine likes to bite my husband if he goes near him. He has a grudge against him and most males but warms up to females easily. What can I do to have him stop biting my husband? He wont bite him though if he is on his shoulder already. I tell my bird NO every time he tries to bite us but it doesnt seem to do much. any suggestions?
Karina, Homestead, FL
Posted: 2/24/2012 4:01:19 PM
The author needs to learn a couple of things. It's not a stick. It is called a perch. There is also a difference between displacement biting and protective biting. Displacement biting is when a bird bites the closest thing when it is afraid. What the author described is protective biting that is instinctive in birds to protect a mate. In the wild if they see a possible predator they will nip at their mate to get it to fly away and out of harms way. Maybe learning how to use a dictionary would help this author learn the proper usage of words. Among the other definitions of displacement is: the redirection of an emotion or impulse from its original object to another. So to call protective biting displacement biting shows the lack of intelligence on the part of the person using this term in the wrong context.
Joe, Fayetteville, WV
Posted: 2/24/2012 10:22:11 AM
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